Parks Jargon—Explained!

Martin Luther King National Historic Site in Atlanta, GA.
Image credit Christopher T. Martin

The parks and recreation field may be devoted to "the people" but it can also be a hard environment to break into for the traditional laymen. This article is a list of terms and their definitions that are often used in parks meetings, documents, and other materials involved in the parks process. This list can be used for residents or community partners who want to get involved in the parks process but who may get overwhelmed—don't be alarmed! You are more than welcome in the spaces and it's important to have your voice heard, even if it needs some translating to parks jargon.

  • 10-Minute Walk: A 10-minute walk, approximately half a mile, is the distance considered by the National Park Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to represent reasonable access for most people to a park. The Trust for Public Land leads the 10-Minute Walk Campaign, a national effort to ensure that 100% of U.S. residents have easy, safe access to a quality park by 2050.
  • Accessibility: Accessibility can refer to design measures to make parks welcoming and usable to people of all abilities, including features such as ramps and seating. It can also refer to removing or replacing language and cultural barriers to make a more inviting park. More broadly, park access can refer to the equitable distribution of parks spatially for easy use by residents. Learn more here.
  • Climate-smart park: Parks have environmental benefits that can help make the surrounding communities resilient to climate change, including 1) carbon-free transportation trails for walking or biking; 2) shading from trees to reduce the heat island effect; 3) permeable surfaces to absorb stormwater; and 4) natural buffer lands to protect coastal areas from rising shorelines.
  • Community engagement: Community engagement is a process of relationship building with target communities. In the case of parks, community engagement can be facilitated by park developers and stakeholders with the surrounding community to grow an understanding of what the users desire from the park. Community engagement falls on a spectrum of power sharing, from consulting community members, to co-creating and sharing decision making (see participatory design).
  • Community forest: Community forestry is a strategy for conserving land and opening it up for public recreational use in rural regions, typically in partnership with timber companies and local communities. Local communities gain access to town-owned forests that were previously reserved for timber production or to otherwise privatized land. Those lands are then protected by non-profits or local government that can steward community forests, install trails, and program the land.
  • Community health: The majority of people's health conditions are dependent on their social and environmental context. Community health focuses on improving the factors that contribute to quality of life, including access to parks, where residents benefit from exercise, reduced stress levels, improved sense of community, and many other factors that contribute to one's health. Learn more here.
  • Comprehensive plan: A plan for development of a geographic region or area including policies, goals, and interrelated plans for private and public land use, transportation systems, community facilities, and all other elements and features that represent decision of the people affected
  • Creative placemaking: The practice of using arts and culture as a tool for community development to make public spaces more reflective of community culture and values. Learn more here.
  • Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED): A strategy to reduce crime using multi-disciplinary urban and environmental design and the management and use of built environments, often practiced in parks, plazas, and public spaces. For example, greening vacant lots in an urban neighborhood is shown to improve perceptions of safety and use of public space by residents and result in measurable reduction in violence, crime, and vandalism. Learn more here.
  • Cross-sectoral partnership: Long-term interaction between two or more organizations from more than one sector (i.e. non-parks or nonprofit sector)
  • Ecosystem services: Any positive benefit that plants and wildlife or ecosystems provide to people, from nourishing us, to absorbing carbon dioxide and other waste products, protecting our coastlines and reducing stormwater runoff, to supporting physical and mental health.
  • Friends-of group: Friends-of groups, or park friends groups, are citizen-led park steward groups that fundraise and volunteer for park maintenance and improvements. These groups can also be known as park conservancies, especially when they take on larger management roles. Learn more here.
  • Gentrification: Neighborhood change (usually in the form of capital investments) that can result in the displacement of low-income residents and long-time businesses driven by middle-class urbanization. Learn more here.
  • Green Infrastructure: Engineering and design measures that use plants and ecological systems to store and filter stormwater reduce flows to sewer systems, and cool neighborhoods and absorb air pollutants primarily through trees.
  • Green Schoolyard: Replacing traditional asphalt-covered lots, green schoolyards are revitalized playgrounds attached to schools. They are  typically co-created with school faculty and students that have climate-smart solutions (see climate-smart parks). This model, created by the Trust for Public Land in New York, allows green space to be open after school hours for the neighborhood and is effective at increasing park access in cities lacking green space.
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund: LWCF is a federal program that designates $900,000,000 annually to conservation and recreation investments in America. It is funded through revenue from offshore oil and gas leases, and not by federal taxes.
  • Multi-Generational: In contrast to a playground that is targeted to youth, multi-generational public amenities are accessible and of interest to all ages. Learn more here.
  • Neighborhood park: An area whose purpose is to provide outdoor recreation opportunities within walking distance of residents in a service area of approximately a 10-minute walk. Neighborhood parks tend to be anywhere from 1 to 50 acres and represent the intermediate scale between pocket parks and regional parks. Learn more here.
  • Park advocacy: Advocacy means engaging local, state, and federal elected officials and government entities through phone calls, letters, petitions, and events to change policy to ensure more funding and resources for parks, trails, and public lands. It is an important role for organizations and citizens alike. Learn more here.
  • Park equity: Using an equity lens to distribute resources where they are most needed, rather than equally across the board, to assure investments are meeting people where they live and the conditions that impact them. Park equity requires understanding historical injustices and racist policies (such as red lining, Jim Crow laws, over-policing neighborhoods of color, and residential displacement) that made it such that high-quality parks and opportunities to benefit from green space tend to be concentrated in well-resourced communities.
  • Participatory design: Participatory design is an effective community engagement strategy that allows residents and end-users to co-design alongside professionals. At community meetings and design sessions, residents and designers alike use creative communication to get to the root desires and needs for the plan, features, and uses of a future space.
  • Planning and design: The phase of assessing a site that will inform the development of a conceptual plan, construction documents, and architectural drawings for a park that typically involves landscape architects, engineers, and others. Learn more here.
  • Pocket Park: A pocket park's most defining characteristic is its size: less than one acre of green space. The purpose of a pocket park is to give nearby residents immediate access to concentrated park amenities, where larger parks are absent or needed.
  • Programming: Activities, classes, public services, and other programs held in public parks and recreation areas usually presented by by parks and recreation departments, parks non-profit partners, or friends of groups. Effective park programming is a vital element for healthy and safe green spaces. Learn more here.
  • Public Lands: Land accessible to the public and managed by the federal, state, or local government, that can include national parks, national monuments, city parks, and much more.
  • Public-Private Partnership: A Public-Private Partnership (PPP) is a creative, long-term alliance between one or more government agencies, and non-profit or private-sector organizations. Some of the better-known PPP park operations are Central Park (New York), Balboa Park (San Diego), Golden Gate National Recreation Area (San Francisco) and The Parklands at Floyds Fork (Louisville, KY) which are owned by public agencies, and managed by private, non-profit entities. which raise significant amounts of philanthropic funding to operate and improve those parks.
  • Regional park: Regional parks tend to be at least 50 acres, well-resourced, and highly utilized. Regional parks tend to attract a larger and more widely dispersed user group than a neighborhood park.
  • Rural: Considered by the U.S. census to be areas that are less than 50,000 people in population. Rural parks are often large, conserved pieces of land.
  • Social cohesion: One of the many benefits that high-quality parks offer to communities is opportunity to build social cohesion or "the extent of connectedness and solidarity among groups in society" that make networks work together to leverage untapped resources. Social cohesion is proven to improve community health, safety, and resilience in the face of adversity, and tis increasingly becoming a goal for park development.
  • Stakeholder: Parks and public spaces involve many groups of people and organizations with stakes, or interests, in the outcomes. Usually stakeholders are geographically close to the park and include residents, non-profits, local and state government, developers, and architects.
  • Stewardship: The act of maintaining and promoting a park or public amenity by local citizens.
  • Stormwater: Most rain that falls in urban areas ends upas “stormwater runoff”  in drains and catch basins, either going into sewage treatment plants that can be overwhelmed by heavy amounts of runoff, or being shunter along with raw sewage into local rivers, bays and other water bodies. This is an inefficient use of freshwater (a diminishing source) that can also have harmful impacts on public health and safety by flooding or polluting water bodies. Officials are designing cities to capture stormwater and put it into the ground through green infrastructure.
  • Technical assistance: Technical assistance is a strategy for building knowledge on specific needs among a cross-sectoral field.
  • Trails: A trail is a travel way that is accessible to pedestrian traffic and typically serves a recreational purpose such as hiking, biking, etc. ,with scenic surroundings. Trails span and even connect the rural-urban divide; the 606, for example, connects West Side Chicago neighborhoods to Downtown Chicago, just as the Appalachian Trail cuts across the southern and northern states of America.
  • Urban: Areas of 50,000 inhabitants or more. Urban parks, therefore, refers to parks in densely populated areas.